Most US writers have to go through an agent – over 80% of all publishing deals are made through a literary agency. Publishers in the USA don’t want to deal directly with authors. In Canada, only ten percent of authors / books are agent-ed. Aspiring and established authors successfully submit the majority (10,000 plus) of the titles published every year directly to editors at publishing houses.
Study the agents’ website and submission guidelines carefully and learn how to write a query.
Be prepared when meeting for the first time with the agent for questions like this, that can make or brake your contract:
- How are going to market your book?
- What’s your platform
- Why do you want to be published?
- What’s your next book about?
- What else are you working on?
- Where do you see this series going?
Even more in your favor will be when you are already working on your second book and have at least the outline for the third. Your manuscripts don’t have to be a part of a series but should be in the same genre as the book the agent will pitch.This will show both the agent and publisher that you have the potential of becoming a career author. Have a sense of how long it takes you to write a book, including all of its editorial stages. This way, you will know what kind of delivery commitment you can make.
As an author trying to find a literary agent you have heard or read from, is not an easy task. And you might find an agency describing itself as “non-fee-charging” but then nevertheless wants money up-front. Most professional agents’ associations adopted policies prohibiting members from charging fees, called “reading fees” or “evaluation fees”.
Reputable agents will NOT charge you a fee up front to represent your book. They earn their living by selling your book to a publisher and gaining a commission. That commission is a percentage of the proceeds your book earns. For one thing, this gives the agent an incentive to actually market your book around to various publishers likely to buy it for publication. This is another reason why many agents pick submissions carefully. They know what publishers are looking for and they will not accept anything which is not ready for submission or close enough that a few days of editing will make the difference.
Most agents these days charge 15% commission on domestic sales (North America).
A literary agent gets his commission AFTER the book contract with a publisher is signed and the first money flows. If they charge reading or evaluation fees or any of the following fees – author beware:
- marketing fees
- submission fees
- travel fees
- legal fees
- advance fees
- or “per hour” fee
Have a look at the do’s and don’ts of both sides:
Never under any circumstances should you pay expenses or any fees up front: Agents only receive money by deducting his or her 15% commission from your eventual earnings. Should an agent tell new writers that she/he was charging 15% commission plus expenses — that’s a rip-off; don’t agree to it. The Association of Authors Representatives (professional organization of literary agents) also forbids the charging of “reading fees.” If an agent asks you to pay a fee for his or her “evaluation” of your manuscript, refuse!
So, what could you encounter?
Some agencies pressure authors into various additional services and charge fees for websites, sample cover mock-ups or illustrations or social media listings.
AgentQuery (Database of Literary Agents) wrote on their website: Industry Red Flags:
“Be wary of any literary agent that contacts you out of the blue, especially if you have not queried that specific agent and do not have a public platform or presence. Fiction writers should be particularly cautious unless the agent has a logical reason to contact you, like you’ve recently won a prestigious writing contest, or they’ve seen your blog or read your published stories, etc..”
“Beware of agents that offer representation for a fixed fee, offer representation only if you pay them money to edit your manuscript, or charge you up-front fees in the range of thousands of dollars to off-set the cost of submitting your manuscript to publishers. These are all warning signs—unethical behavior from an unprofessional scammer. Scammers will tempt you, especially if you are desperate and inundated with rejections. They will tell you how fabulous your manuscript is and you will want to believe them.”
WRITER BEWARE notes:
“Not all agents who charge marketing fees are dishonest. Some are simply inexperienced or inept. But scam or amateur, the bottom line for the writer is the same: a lighter wallet and no book contract.”
Remember, that many of these publishers operate under more than one name and as “in-house” referral services. This means they always find a reason to refer you to another company which they also own… Editors Nielsen-Hayden summed it up: “Writing may be an art or a craft (or both), but publishing is a business. It’s best to know the business before diving in.”
Resources and More blog posts regarding Literary Agents:
How Agents work and How to work with Agents
Must-Read Blog to learn more about agents and how to approach them
Database of Literary Agents
What Literary Agents Want to Know From You
How to Write a Query Letter
100′s of Links to Publishers and Agents
Which Literary Agent is Right for You?
Association of Author’s Representatives (lists agents)
Lynnette Labelle Editorial Services
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